Creationism in British Schools

Caution Creationists3



Tonight Creationism was discussed on Newsnight. Essentially Creationism holds that God created the earth in 6 24-hours days some 6000 to 10000 years ago. Ussher gave the date of 4004BC in 1656 before there was any geology. Many think creationism is the traditional church teaching, but before the evidence for an ancient earth in 1800AD, the church was ambivalent as there was no evidence either way. Thus Christians before 1800 had little to go on, but many did not take the Bible literally.

By 1800 or so most educated people in Europe, including Christians and the clergy accepted the vast age put forward by geologists, who were often Christian. From 1820 in Britain some well-meaning Christians tried to show that geology was wrong. More secular geologists like Lyell simply scorned them and let them get eviscerated by Christian geologists like Adam Sedgwick (Darwin’s geology teacher) and William Buckland. As a result this biblical literalism went extinct by 1856 and was virtually unknown in Britain until 1968. Creationism took off in the USA after the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961 which claimed that all geology was wrong and that all strata were laid down in the year of Noah’s Flood. Humans lived alongside dinosaurs as found in the Creation museum in Ohio. Creationism was born and spread in the US and then travelled overseas.


I first came across it in 1971, as I was beginning to train for the Anglican ministry. No one in the church thought it an issue but like cancer it slowly spread among Evangelicals so that by the time of the Arkansas monkey trial of 1981 it has a significant following in Britain , including among Anglican clergy. And so it grew like Topsy, aided by American creationists who came over to give lecture tours, and then after 1990, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis made many visits and Creationism virtually became the default position among British Evangelicals, and those like me, who thought it wrong, were regarded as intolerant or heretical.

However, creationism not only infected the churches, it was slowly and surreptitiously introduced into schools, whether through Christian Unions, Christian workers and even by science teachers. In the early 90s creationism was taught as science at Emmanuel College, Gateshead. This came out in 2002 after Ken Ham spoke to an out-of-school gathering at the school. For over 30 years creationism has been taught as science in ultra-evangelical faith schools which follow ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) or are in the CST (Church Schools Trust). What is far more concerning is the way it has been allowed to infiltrate into mainstream schools, whether County schools or church schools (usually Anglican). Much of this lies below the radar and only comes to light if noticed by a hawk-eyed observer or when a parent complains. As a result much is anecdotal and does not get properly recorded. For some years the BCSE (British Centre for Science Education) has tried to keep tabs on what is going on. A certain amount comes to light, but I am sure it represents only the tip of the iceberg.

For myself I have observed the slow growth of creationism since 1971. Much has been from my vantage point as a vicar involved in church schools. My conclusion is that teaching creationism is becoming more common despite government warnings against it. Yet it is scarcely talked about and churches, including the Anglican Church tend to ignore it and do not want stroppy clergy rocking the boat! Yet the issue has been there for over twenty years. Within my present diocese it is almost above surface, which is not surprising as 5 -10 % of the clergy are creationists. To give some examples; in 2002 I was asked to give talk on creationism to a group of about 30 clergy and heads of church schools. At the end I got it from one vicar and head, who were ardent creationists. The vicar went to various schools to speak about “science”. A church secondary school held a spiritual day on creation, to which a creationist was invited by the school. On another occasion I received a concerned phone call from an evangelical layman as his parish was starting a new school through the diocese and the vicar wanted to appoint a creationist. During 2009 that vicar often went into secondary schools to speak on Christianity and Darwin…..

Elsewhere a church secondary school in Exeter invited a creationist (Phillip Bell of Creation Ministries International), but a parent complained and contacted the BCSE. This caused friction but, even so, the next year the school invited him again. On discovering that a teacher was teaching creationism in a church school in Sussex and wrote openly about of it on an Evangelical forum, I wrote to the Diocese and the LEA. I am still awaiting a reply. In 2013 an American group were involved in a primary school in Lanarkshire leading school worship. It came to a head when children were given creationist books to take home. Again some parents were offended.

Add to that the way sectarian Christian groups have tried to open Free Schools in recent years – notably the Everyday Champuions School in Newark – later re-named – it is clear that there is a serious problem of the teaching of science in state schools. In fact , I consider the problem of the extreme independent schools like those described by Jonny Scaramanga on Newsnight tonight as of less concern – comparatively speaking.

My concerns are simple, Creationism is being taught as science in some of our state schools – usually under the radar, and that government ministers, LEAs and dioceses do very little about it. Part is the weakness of a liberal tolerance, which wishes to tolerate all sincerely held views. Up to a point that is fine, but we cannot replace science teaching with the rubbish which is creationism.

Useful Reading (the literature is vast)

Young and Stearley The Bible Rocks and Time

Michael Roberts Evangelicals and Science (Greenwood 2008)

Ron Numbers The Creationists Harvard 2006


10 thoughts on “Creationism in British Schools

  1. Richard Forrest

    I think that this misses the main point of why creationism should be opposed.
    Creationism is an issue because its proponents claim that their religious dogma is supported by science and should be taught as science in science classes. If they were not making this demand there would not be an issue.
    The fact – and it is a fact richly supported by evidence – that creationists are incapable of promoting their agenda without distortion, misrepresentation and outright falsehoods shows that as a movement it is deeply and systematically dishonest. Whilst most rank and file creationists are sincere in their beliefs, I have little doubt that some at least of the leaders of the movement are deliberately and knowingly promoting blatant falsehoods to support their cause. When the matter came to trial in the USA, proponents of creationism lied under oath – an oath presumably sworn on that same Bible they hold to be inerrant.
    Creationism should be opposed not for any religious or scientific reason, but because it is dishonest. It should not be taught to children because we should not teach children blatant lies. It should be opposed by Christians as much as it should be opposed by atheists because by claiming to be Christians whilst lying through their teeth, creationists cast Christianity in a poor light.
    Creationism is non-existent science and shoddy and dishonest religion. It should have no place in society here or anywhere else.


  2. Dan

    What is your position concerning Martin Luther, who did believe in the six day creation and wrote about in his Genesis Commentary?


    1. michaelroberts4004 Post author

      Quite simple. Luther died before Copernicus published and so was a heliocentrist. No big deal. Same as Calvin. also There were no inklings of the vast age of the earth until after 1680 and then less ancient than turned out. It was only clear that the earth was millions of years old after 1770. So I see Luther as a man of his time, wise in many ways but not full of later scientific knowledge. Incidentally Calvin’s commentary on Genesis is excellent on Genesis One


  3. Clare Flourish

    Why 1961? The Scopes trial was 1925: Scopes broke a law in Tennessee against teaching the evolution of humanity in a state-funded school. “Fundamentalists” were teaching that literal interpretations of the Bible trumped scientific observation, though perhaps not observations that individuals could most easily make for themselves. The battle has hotted up since then with “Creationists” producing arguments why evolution does not happen.


    1. michaelroberts4004 Post author

      !961 is the year The Genesis Flood was published which triggered off Young earthism. It is the crucial date. The Scopes trial was not about literal interpretation as almost all on the anti-evolution side accepted the vast age of the earth eg Jennings Bryan. Only later Young earth came in from Mc cready Price of the Seventh Day Adventists. This is spelt out in numbers’ book. I think you need to revise your view of the Scopes trial. In fact up to the late 60s most American fundamentalists accepted the vast age of the earth. I love to point out to fundies that their’s is a new fangled view unlike mine 🙂


  4. Paul Hanen

    The article summarizes the history of young-earth, literal-day creationism fairly well, but has one major definitional flaw: young earth-ism (for want of a less awkward label) is not the only form of creationism. There are several alternatives to BOTH young earth-ism and Darwinism, and these two dogmas (yes, Darwinism is a dogma) are not the only options on the table.


    1. michaelroberts4004 Post author

      What is Darwinism?Evolution comes in many guises. For brevity I excluded ID , which is not science, or Old Earth Creationism which is the least malign . Far better are those Christians who accept evolution



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